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We are the Lions, Mr Manager review at Tara Theatre, London – ‘a tightly plotted two-hander’

Medhavi Patel in We are the Lions, Mr Manager at Tara Theatre, London. Photo: Paul Sandy Medhavi Patel in We are the Lions, Mr Manager at Tara Theatre, London. Photo: Paul Sandy
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When Jayaben Desai initiated a picket line at the Grunwick Film Processing Laboratories in 1976, she was setting off a string of events that would resonate through Labour party history.

The extended industrial action found mass support in the unions and to an extent, saw a turning point in working class race relations in the UK.

Desai was known for her articulate, colourful way with words and the title of Neil Gore’s fascinating new play quotes her parting shot to her despotic manager before strike action began.

We are the Lions, Mr Manager is a tightly plotted two-hander that documents Desai’s story from her earliest days in this country, to giving evidence at the government instigated enquiry.

The density of the plot is countered by Louise Townsend’s relaxed directorial style and performances that breaks down the fourth wall and encourage audience participation. The folk music score amplifies the message of freedom and solidarity while highlighting how little things have changed in the last 40 years.

Central to the success of this production is Medhavi Patel’s performance as Desai. Patel captures not only her tenacity but also her vulnerability amid the turmoil of male dominated trade unions. Desai was brought up to fight for her freedom and Patel unleashes elements of both the idealist and pragmatist that made her such an inspirational figure.

Gore, also performing, lends an air of pantomime to the villains but this playful conceit adds to the texture of the piece. But while Carl Davies’ clever set design is both evocative and functional, it struggles to fit the Tara Theatre’s stage.

 

Verdict
Inventive new musical play celebrating a turbulent episode of social history
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